BY Jan Tumlir in Reviews | 10 SEP 97
Featured in
Issue 36

Kevin Hanley

BY Jan Tumlir in Reviews | 10 SEP 97

Certain narrative principles apply just as well to the process of making a movie as, say, planning a vacation. For one thing, concentrate less on how to get where you're going, and more on what you do once you get there. 'Deliver the moment', is the screenwriter's mantra, an insistent reminder of the bottom line, of what one is paid to provide ­ the cinematic 'goods', so to speak. Of course the set-up is crucial and its pleasures may sometimes rival those of the denouement, but in theory at least, they should never surpass it. This is a matter of precise timing and economics, of expenditures escalating by ever more lavish increments until some sort of threshold is broached, at which point the delirious thrill-ride promised at the gate may begin in earnest.

Ignore these basic guidelines and you risk winding up in narrative limbo or holiday hell, wafting through a succession of train station and airport waiting-rooms, flat broke and exhausted before you even get going. Or else, like Kevin Hanley, you may instead choose to stake out this dismal terminus as your point of departure, and get to work. The quest for the vaunted moment continues, only now re-routed toward a much more mundane, incidental, at times almost insignificant goal. Hanley's smallish photographs, casually snapped in transit between nations and neighbourhoods, document a search so leisurely it continually threatens to dissolve into an aimless drift. What exactly he is after is never made clear, and accordingly we might assume that it is subject matter itself ­ that the process of searching in effect determines its content. Indeed his course is guided by a plurality of mysterious incentives, a series of barely perceptible correspondences that fade in and out of view between one locale and the next. Between such things as the crisp folds of a woman's summer dress, for instance, and a murky green shadow thrown against the tiled walls of the Paris metro, a faint echo is noted and provisionally registered. And later, once the photos are processed and scanned into the computer, the search is resumed once more within the impacted space of the image.

The installation of 'Irregular Outings' is deceptively straightforward: eight single-edition Iris prints hung at eye-level and at regular intervals, right around the room. Five of them employ the afore-mentioned snapshots: a lone picture, in each case, isolated against a lush monochromatic field that precisely mimics a particular hue selected from its central Kodacolor palette. Alternating with these are three meandering abstractions of a densely op-ish, post-painterly variety. While devoid of referential imagery, these works, which Hanley has dubbed 'Go Betweens', also appear to replicate this slightly degraded photomechanical colour scheme. It is a device which grounds the show as a whole in a sense of everydayness, while simultaneously pointing towards the aesthetic abyss of the Fotomat.

Each print is flush-mounted to aluminium supports just thick enough to hint at objecthood, and this consistent formatting invites an integrated reading of the very different kinds of work on view, an attempt to negotiate their conflicting strategies of systematic process versus improvisation, figuration versus abstraction, bounded shape versus free-floating colour. Yet these tensions do not ask to be resolved so much as simply entered and inhabited for a moment. A hyper-refined sort of languor pervades this work, a deliberate laxity which is at times reminiscent of the Situationists and their anti-productivist ethos. And in this light, it would not be unreasonable to see 'Irregular Outings' as an updated attempt at psychological excavation, complete with computer-assisted cartography and one-hour souvenirs of the Dérive. That these practices, which have generally tended to favour only the most ancient and shadowy sectors of the urban landscape, are here transposed into the glaring and prefabricated space of contemporary tourism might seem paradoxical at first, and yet so much of their original exploratory spirit is faithfully maintained.

Between the 50-car pileups and 50-foot come-shots that increasingly figure cinematic transcendence, there might exist an even more compelling realm of imminent fascinations and distraction; and the key to this place, as Hanley has found, is in the hands of the vagrant. Clearly he is in no great rush to get anywhere in particular. The narrative momentum intrinsic to the travel picture is here purposefully stalled; the moment of arrival, of conclusion, keeps getting pushed farther off into the distance. The journey itself, and its attendant revelations, is thereby extended ad infinitum.

Jan Tumlir is an author and teacher based in Los Angeles, USA. His latest book Conversations (2020), published by Inventory Press, is a series of dialogues with the artist Jorge Pardo.